Covid-19: AU hails 'African jewel' as continental medical supplies platform launched

  • The African Union has launched a one-stop medical supplies platform to help African countries to procure medical supplies in the fight against Covid-19.
  • The project has been described as another building block toward the African Continental Free Trade Area.
  • The platform is set to connect manufacturers and suppliers with governments directly.

African leaders have lauded the launch of the continent's first medical supplies platform as the "jewel in the crown of Pan-African cooperation".

The initiative, described as groundbreaking innovation, will serve as a one-stop shop for the continent's 55 member states to access medical supplies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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On Thursday, African Union (AU) chairperson President Cyril Ramaphosa, AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki and the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Dr John Nkengasong held a media briefing, giving an update on the platform.

The platform was developed in partnership with Afreximbank.

"Out of the ashes of Covid-19 the continent is going to be able to trade together in a much more forthright manner and even more transparently as well," Ramaphosa said.

Death toll

The AU chair said the site would be able to resolve issues around supply shortages, security, price competitiveness, procurement and logistical delays, while also simplifying the payment process.

More than 7 200 people have died from the pandemic in Africa, with 267 818 confirmed cases. Around 8 million people have been infected across the globe.

Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa, who was appointed as the AU special envoy leading global mobilisation of medical test kits and protective equipment for the continent this month, gave a brief presentation of how the Africa medical supplies platform would operate.

He said the website would "unashamedly" put products manufactured on the continent first, and that the allocation of supplies differed between countries depending on population size and disease burden in line with a formula developed in agreement with the World Health Organisation.

"This platform is not for profit, it sits with the ACDC [Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] and with Afreximbank. Those are the core partners of the platform, no fees, no business for any of us," Masiyiwa said.

Faki said while the continent remained a priority, they also recognised this was an emergency so they would navigate with that in mind.

"Our priority is to African suppliers, but there are not enough suppliers in Africa unfortunately. That's why you see majority of countries are buying from China," Faki said.

Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said the platform was initially developed to assist with maternal and childcare in a bid to connect mothers to women pharmaceutical producers on the continent as big pharmaceutical companies refuse to deliver to small islands with ports that are seen as too small. She said this has become a bigger issue with Covid-19.

"A lot of work has been done by the envoys to get some relief and we hope with the resources out of that relief countries will begin to buy," she said.

Songwe said the platform allowed the continent to increase its testing capacity from two million tests a month to 10 million, which is necessary to control the pandemic.

Leaders skirted around the issue of Burundi, with both Ramaphosa and Faki eventually leaving it in the hands of Nkengasong to answer.

The Africa CDC director said the organisation regularly engaged with African countries seeking data on the spread of the pandemic, and the approach was to emphasise cooperation and the sharing of information in a timely fashion.

He said all health ministers met in Addis Ababa, which is where the AU's headquarters are situated, to agree on the basic principles that would underpin the strategic plan for the continent's response, which was to be based on cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication.

"We expect all countries to share data in a timely fashion with the African CDC so we can use it to develop strategies to enable us to develop efforts in a science and date driven manner… it's an appeal we do every week, every day," Nkengasong said.

He added several guidelines were sent out to countries.

Burundi's long-serving leader Pierre Nkurunziza reportedly died of the coronavirus last week, despite reports claiming it was a heart attack. His mother reportedly died of Covid-19, while his wife and sister were also said to have contracted the virus.

Nkurunziza had been criticised for failing to take the pandemic seriously, with some even questioning the total number of infections in the small landlocked country.

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